In a scathing assessment, Gary Neville described Manchester United’s performances this season as “shoddy”, adding that they are “scrappy and scruffy to watch”.
It came after United’s 29-game unbeaten run away from home in the Premier League was brought to a crashing halt at Leicester, with the Foxes coming from behind to win 4-2 at the King Power Stadium.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are winless in their last three league games, with pressure further growing on the manager after an expensive summer of incomings.
“There are issues as their performance are nowhere near good enough,” Neville told Sky Sports. “I said a few weeks ago that the moment where they started to play half-decent teams, they’re going to struggle. Aston Villa, Everton, Villarreal and Leicester are half decent teams.
“The performances have been so shoddy all season in terms of team performances. There’s been some good results and some great individual goals, but the overall performances and the unit in and out of possession have been shoddy.
“It’s scrappy and scruffy to watch. When you play a team with a clear organisation and a methodology, you’re going to get pulled apart and that’s what happened here. They were pulled apart by Villa, pulled apart by Everton and pulled apart by Villarreal.
“We’ve seen a team picked today with Marcus Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes starting. Five of them, so I wouldn’t want to be a defender in that team.
“I love them as players those five, but having them all in the same team there’s not enough work horses. There’s a reason that Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea, Nicky Butt, Tom Cleverley, Park Ji-sung and Owen Hargreaves got a game at United over the years.
“We needed work horses alongside the great players. Manchester United at this moment in time are imbalanced. The performances are now getting what they deserve in terms of the results. It needs to change. The performances need to be a lot better and today was no surprise.
“I think the performances over the season haven’t been good enough even when they’ve been winning. Against Newcastle [when Man Utd won 4-1], everyone got carried away but they weren’t very good that day.”
Manchester United now have to play five of the traditional ‘Big Six’ in their next six league games, and Neville compared how they might fare with Chelsea’s battling win against Brentford.
There is massive pressure. It’s not coming. It’s here. It was there before the international break and it’s not going to go away. It should be there. It’s Manchester United. They’ve spent a fortune and they’ve got some of the best players in the world.
“Oh, we know what’s coming,” the Sky Sports pundit added. “Having struggled against half decent teams, they’re now going to play against some of the best teams in the world. Next Sunday, they’re going to play Liverpool and then they have to play Man City the week after.
“They’re going to play Tottenham and then Chelsea and these are proper teams. Of course, the players could rise for those games, but they didn’t make a good start today.”
Brendan Rodgers explained after the game how his Leicester side were able to break through United on Saturday, saying: “Their central players weren’t pressing so we could be patient and work the ball through the pitch, we got into some really good areas and put pressure on their backline.”
And Neville added that United are “nowhere near good enough” off the ball.
“They’re nowhere near good enough out of possession. They’re the weakest team among those near the top of the league without a shadow of a doubt for pressing. You look at Chelsea’s resilience today…. United would’ve folded in those last 15-20 minutes.
“City to be fair to them would’ve kept the ball, and Liverpool have something about them with Van Dijk at the back again. Liverpool went punch for punch with Brentford when they came here and tried to score more goals. Man Utd without the ball aren’t good enough.”
1 – This was Manchester United’s first away league defeat in 30 games (since a 2-0 loss at Liverpool in January 2020), and the first time the Red Devils have conceded four goals in an away league game since April 2019 (0-4 vs Everton). Burst. pic.twitter.com/xXmI6T6JOS
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 16, 2021
Questions continue to be asked about whether United’s squad can gel as a team. Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo were added in the summer, joining a team that already has a plethora of stars.
Neville continued: “They’ve got this real conundrum with Pogba and Fernandes, they’ve got this real conundrum with Ronaldo and Cavani, another conundrum with Greenwood, Rashford and Sancho. You put all these teams into a unit when out of possession, and those players’ strengths aren’t out of possession. The great players are able to do it in both ways, but they’re biased towards the attacking side of the game.
“What Manchester United’s star players need is to have the work ethic of Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, and Sadio Mane. World-class players who work like absolute dogs every game. I don’t see that among United’s most talented players.
“When I look at those United players I’ve mentioned in the team today, they don’t work as hard as Mane or Firmino or Bernardo Silva. A better player who works harder means you’re not going to finish higher than them – it’s as simple as that.
“The pressure will build on the manager and the pressure will build on the players. They won’t do anything with the manager. Ultimately, I think the club are stable in this respect in what’s happened in the last 10 years. I think they recognise that they are going to go through these moments.
“They are integrating Varane, Sancho and Ronaldo and I feel they’ll see it through but there is massive pressure. It’s not coming. It’s here. It was there before the international break and it’s not going to go away. It should be there. It’s Manchester United. They’ve spent a fortune and they’ve got some of the best players in the world.”